Living on the Earth, May 16, 1997, Environmental Education-What to Believe?
What to believe? Is environmental education critical to our fate or just
another political tool? The answer to that question may be very important to
the future of humans on this planet. Exactly what should we teach our children
and what should they know about the environment and their relationship to it ?
Currently, battles wage between factions with very different views of
environmental education which offer a wide range of answers. The argument now
is between those who question whether environmental problems actually exist at
all, and those who think that there are serious problems and that something must
be done before it's too late.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages, textbook publishers create lots of new
environmental education books. After looking at a few of these from Suzanne's
fifth-grade classroom, it seems that confusion is the most likely result of
their use. One series says "really major changes can only be achieved by
governments." Another textbook has the following phrases in the pull out boxes
titled "How Can We Help?" Bear in mind that these are suggestions to 10-year old
children. They are told they can help:
*By strengthening and carrying out International Agreements(!)...,
*By treating wastewater from mines...,
*By setting aside land as parks...,
*By helping people get the food and medical care they need...,
*By building cars that get better gas mileage..., and
*By using contour plowing.
This advice is disconnected and irrelevant to almost anyone, but consider
students in Bridgeport who might prefer to have a safer neighborhood, a
gymnasium or a full-time nurse in their school before they tackle global
environmental problems. In fact, these books are likely to produce little
understanding and no action.
For the faction that wants, above all, to be sure that nothing is done to
question the myth that economic and material growth can and should continue
indefinitely this works well. They believe that unfettered growth is good for
humans and for the environment, too.
On Earth Day both The New York Times and National Public Radio chose to
prominently feature, and collaborate with, the current campaign to convert
environmental education from an evolving field of relevant activism into the
handmaiden of economic growth and big business interests.
NPR ran commentary that severely criticized any environmental education that
even questions the value of unlimited growth, much less suggests changes in
human behavior or consumption patterns.
Earlier in the year, Investors Business Daily ran a guest editorial titled "Is
There Hope For Environmental Education?" Its authors claimed that: acid rain
causes only minor damage; that forests aren't threatened by logging; that global
warming isn't a problem; and that educational materials that state otherwise are
misguided and harmful.
So, not only is the environment under attack from the proponents of unlimited
economic growth, but also the idea itself that the environment is in trouble and
that people need to change their behavior is now questioned. In other words:
Keep that car going faster and faster until it inevitably crashes into the brick
Proponents of this view are well-funded and tightly-organized, not the "loose
network of critics" suggested by the New York Times. Documentation in The
Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations reveals that one
organization - The Political Economy Research Center - is funded by almost the
same group of foundations and trusts that together with large oil, chemical and
consumer product corporations, supports many of this country's most prominent
right-wing think-tanks and anti-environmental organizations.
Television, the increasingly dominant force in many children's lives, pushes
more consumption unrelentingly. Much of the school curriculum also encourages
more consumption with some lip service given to recycling.
This makes it even more imperative to get our children outside so they can
appreciate the elegance, simplicity and beauty of nature's ways. Let them
learn, through gardening, farming and other outdoor experiences about their
relationship to the environment. Let them experience first hand the happiness
and fulfillment to be found in working with nature.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491